The United States Supreme Court has declined to block Senator Lindsey Graham from having to testify before a grand jury in a criminal investigation of Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss in the state of Georgia, handing a setback to a prominent ally of the former president.
The top court justices on Tuesday denied Graham’s emergency request to put on hold a judge’s order requiring him to appear as a witness before the grand jury in Fulton County while the Republican senator’s appeal in the dispute proceeded.
Graham, who represents South Carolina in the US Senate, contends that as a member of Congress, he is protected under the constitution from questioning in the investigation.
There were no publicly noted dissents to the decision.
The unsigned order said that the lower courts assumed that Graham, as a sitting senator, was immune from questioning under the constitution’s so-called “Speech or Debate Clause” for any fact-finding efforts in which he engaged and that he may legally contest any disputes arising from specific questions.
“Accordingly, a stay or injunction is not necessary to safeguard the senator’s Speech or Debate Clause immunity,” the order said.
Justice Clarence Thomas, on October 24, temporarily blocked Graham’s testimony pending a decision by the full court on how to proceed.
Graham had appealed to the Supreme Court after the Atlanta-based 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals, on October 20, unanimously rebuffed his attempt to avoid testifying as ordered by a judge while the litigation proceeds.
Graham is not a target in the investigation, but he has been subpoenaed to testify before the special grand jury, which was formed as part of the investigation led by Fulton County district attorney, a Democrat, into possible coordinated attempts to illegally interfere in the outcome of the 2020 election.
In Georgia, a special grand jury cannot return indictments but can recommend criminal prosecution related to its investigation.
Prosecutors sought Graham’s testimony about phone calls he made to Georgia election officials in the weeks after Trump lost the election to Democrat Joe Biden.
During the calls, Graham questioned the officials, who were fellow Republicans, about reexamining certain absentee ballots “in order to explore the possibility of a more favourable outcome for former President Donald Trump”, prosecutors said in court documents.